The man in the photo is James Orcutt, a counselor at Platte Canyon High School in Denver, Colorado, the high school in which last fall, a 54-year-old man walked into a classroom, sent the boys and the teacher out, took six girls hostage, one by one sexually assaulted them, then murdered two of them and killed himself. I blogged about this when it happened. I went looking for updates today.
Now this counselor, Orcutt, has been suspended.
According to news reports, a couple of weeks after the shootings, Orcutt called one of the 15-year-old girls who had been taken hostage by the murderer into his office. They were in his office alone. She wasn’t told in advance he wanted to meet with her, and her parents weren’t informed of it. After an hour of invasive, intrusive questioning of the girl over what happened that horrifying day she was taken hostage, after she’d asked to leave and he kept talking, she ran crying from his office.
She told her mom, who contacted the school about the incident. Nobody from the school responded to the mother’s e-mail for two weeks. Her mom then asked that her daughter, Samantha, have no further contact with Orcutt. Her request was ignored; Orcutt just kept talking to her daughter whenever he saw her, upsetting her daughter every time. Her mother finally went to the media when it began to be clear that the male administrators were backing up Orcutt and not her daughter.
Here is an excerpt from a letter the mother wrote to Orcutt, posted here among other relevant documents:
… I am extremely sensitive to interactions my daughter has at this time with strangers (yes, you are a stranger to her) that may have a negative effect on her emotional well-being…When I asked you what was discussed, you responded that it was confidential. You assured me that what was discussed … was appropriate and a positive step in the healing process for her…
… we didn’t make it out of the parking lot before Samantha began to tell me her perspective of her first interaction with a counselor since [the shootings]…
She was in the counseling office to make a phone call when you saw her and asked her to wait to speak with you. She did not sign in to speak with a counselor nor did she verbally express an interest in speaking with you. She did not understand that speaking with you was optional, but was … following direction from an adult who has authority within the school. While she was speaking with you she became extremely uncomfortable with the questions you were asking. You even continued to ask her about the events of September 27 and her time as a hostage. You asked her to tell her story about the experience and asked her detailed questions about the most traumatic event of her life. You then proceeded to tell her.. .she would have to repeat her story about the hostage situation many times in the future to many people and therefore she should start getting used to it. She was not interested in speaking with you about this but felt she had no way of getting out of your room and was afraid to ask to leave. When she finally escaped from your office she was in tears and immediately informed all her friends… to stay away from Mr. Orcutt.
Did it occur to you that being alone in a closed room with a complete stranger was threatening to her at this time? Did you know she is particularly threatened by male strangers and internally panics when making eye contact with a man (she doesn’t know) in public? … Are you aware that she still has not told her story to any man, not even a relative? It is too difficult and embarrassing to her, at age 15, to speak about what happened in that room to someone who is not female. (Letter from Samantha’s mother to Jim Orcutt dated October 13, 2006.)
Sheriff’s investigated. As it turns out, Orcutt had been asked to leave another Colorado school district in 2003, for sexual contact with female students. He had been banned from coaching there for the same reason.
The following is from a Park County Sheriff’s Office report:
A current Jefferson County principal [said] Orcutt was known for his affairs with females in the high schools where he worked and was allegedly married to a secretary he had an affair with. (Park County Sheriff’s Office Report dated 12-15-06)
Orcutt has denied he had sexual relationships with students, variously saying he “can’t remember,” and that a student lied about him because she was angry with him for other reasons. But sheriff’s reports show that one girl reported having been kissed and fondled by Orcutt against her will in Orcutt’s home, and when Orcutt took a lie detector test, it evidenced he was being deceptive. Since there was no “evidence,” however, he was never charged with violating any laws.
His response to the earlier charges was to retire from that particular school district. Despite all of this on his record, he was nevertheless hired as a counselor at Platte Canyon High School, where the shootings occurred, in 2006.
Orcutt says he is being scapegoated. He says the girl’s account is “not accurate.” But a sheriff’s report backs up the girls’ account, not his. Orcutt’s secretary saw the girl running from his office in tears, after having been in the office alone with him for over an hour. What the girl’s mother reports about her daughter, rings true. What the mother says about her interactions with Orcutt and the school ring true.
What hope is there for our daughters when, having been taken hostage by a murderer, sexually assaulted, witnessing their friends sexually assaulted, after their friends have been murdered, they are called into a male “counselor’s” office to be grilled about it, by a man who was, in all likelihood, sexually titillated by these horrific events, something Samantha felt, saying in a sheriff’s report that she had a “wierd feeling”, was “embarrassed,” and just wanted to get away from him. What hope is there for our daughters when, once these incidents are reported, administrators have the perp’s back and not our teenage daughters’ backs? How in the name of all that is decent is it acceptable for a man like this to be hired as a high school “counselor?” How is this young girl ever to make peace with something this horrifying after having been re-victimized by this “counselor.”
I’m betting Samantha has been or will be told at some point that she has “trust” issues, that there is something wrong with her for being scared and fearful, that she imagined what happened in that counselor’s office, that she probably made it all up. When in point of fact, this is a middle-aged man, treating high schools as his own personal sexual playground.
I have the deepest respect for this young amazon, Samantha, and her amazon mother, for their courage in reporting this to the school and then to the news media, taking all of the risks of speaking up. Thank the goddess for their courage. It is only in refusing to be silent that there is any hope at all, however slim, that the terrorism of our daughters, of all women might end.